Youth development organizations need ways to teach their adult volunteers and staff the foundational practices of youth development. But, skills such as managing cooperative learning, creating meaningful hands-on activities, and engaging youth as partners in the learning process can be difficult to learn to implement successfully.
Like other youth development organizations, Girl Scouts of Western Washington was wrestling with this issue. At the same time, another need was evident: while volunteers valued science experiences for their girls, many volunteers were not comfortable integrating science into their troop activities. Yet girls love science, and their parents/guardians show a high desire for girls to have positive science experiences.
Out of these two needs came an innovative solution: use science inquiry activities to teach volunteers how to implement best practices in youth development. In 2006, staff from Girl Scouts of Western Washington and a science faculty member from Seattle University, along with a colleague from the Puget Sound Center for Teaching, Learning, and Technology (now EdLab Group) convened to discuss how they might collaborate to increase science capacity in the everyday framework of Girl Scouts. Thus, the Inquiry in the Communityproject was born. After two years of planning, we received generous grants from the National Science Foundation to develop training curricula, support structures, and organizational changes that would embed inquiry science into the Girl Scout experience.
In 2008-2009 we created the three core components of our project curriculum. These workshops were piloted in selected communities of western Washington in 2009-2011, and continued to be fine-tuned throughout this initial phase. In the second phase of the project, 2011-2013, we worked with partner Girl Scout councils in California, Oregon, Washington, and Maine to implement our curriculum and support frameworks in their distinct environments. Our focus evolved from simply teaching volunteers inquiry science facilitation to helping other councils embed inquiry science practices into their own organizations.
The goals of the Inquiry in the Community project are:
- Empower adult volunteers to comfortably and effectively facilitate science activities with groups of youth.
- Develop one-time courses and ongoing support frameworks that enable adults to confidently implement inquiry science activities with youth.
- Pilot a model of science-positive training and support that creates culture change within an existing youth organization.
Stephanie Lingwood has focused much of her career on adult education, program design, and increasing girls' access to high-quality science experiences. Before spearheading this project for Girl Scouts of Western Washington, she was their Director of Program, where she led development of a comprehensive science education program for both girls and adults. When not supporting science discovery, she guides others in adventure travel and begrudgingly shares her garden with the snails.
Jen Sorensen, Ph.D.
Jen Sorensen is Director of General Science and Assistant Professor of Chemistry at Seattle University. When she is not busy mentoring undergraduate students or getting them excited about thermodynamics, you can find her thinking about science in informal learning environments. Her interests center around two themes: 1) access to science education and career opportunities for girls and young women, particularly for underrepresented demographics, and 2) creating informal learning systems that build the capacity of community volunteers to engage in scientific inquiry with youth.
Please direct questions to Dr. Jen Sorensen, firstname.lastname@example.org.